London (CNN)In these times of extraordinary global turmoil, the weekend came as a welcome break for many. But anyone looking at the cyclists and runners crowding New York’s parks, hikers thronging Britain’s beauty spots and groups hanging out at California’s busy beaches would have no clue that a dangerous pandemic has the world in its grip
And as cases continue to soar, Italy offers clues to what may happen next.
When the outbreak in Italy began, authorities began by locking down affected “red zone” areas in the north. As cases continued to spread, the entire country was put on lockdown on March 9, with those who break the rules threatened with $232 fines and six months’ prison time.
But hundreds of thousands of Italians have since been given police citations for flouting the ban, and a Chinese Red Cross official last week said Italy’s measures — among the strictest in Europe — weren’t strict enough. On Friday, the military was called in to help enforce the rules as deaths spiked and hospitals buckled under the strain. By the weekend, when Italy announced more than 1,400 deaths over a two-day period, authorities were forced to issue even more stringent restrictions on people and businesses.
Related stories While Europe has now taken over from China as the epicenter of the outbreak, many Western countries do not appear to have learned from Italy’s example.
In London, where people flocked to parks to bask in a sunny weekend despite government advice to stay home, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned people to take the guidelines more seriously or face further restrictions, before adding, “I don’t want to do that.”
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Monday that citizens who fail to practice government-advised social distancing measures were “very selfish,” while New York Governor Andrew Cuomo described people gathering in parks as a “mistake”, “arrogant”, and “insensitive.”
But Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioral Science at Warwick Business School, told CNN that this did not go far enough, saying western leaders had been “very mixed in their messaging” as they gradually closed bars, restaurants, theaters and schools over the past week — and urged the public to listen to the advice to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“When people are being advised quite gently to do something, I don’t think one should view them as being necessarily outrageously unreasonable in going ahead and doing it anyway,” he said.
“Because the message they’re implicitly getting is it isn’t all that important, because if it was really important, we tell you. So we don’t say things like, ‘we advise you to stop at red lights, we advise you to drive on this side of the road’ … We just say you just have to. If you don’t, you’re breaking the law.”